By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– Robyn Rasmussen has come a long way from the $300 Minolta film camera she had in 1996.
She was still in high school at that time, but the investment she made to accommodate her interest in photography proved to be much more than a flash in the pan.
Rasmussen, of North Liberty, is now the owner of her own business, Ruby Ellen Photography. Since officially launching her venture in October 2012, she has been busier taking photos than she ever dreamed.
In a world that has made high-quality digital photography accessible to even the most technologically-challenged, Rasmussen has found unique ways to differentiate herself from other professional photographers and hobbyists.
First, Ruby Ellen is not a studio-based photography business. Instead, Rasmussen goes to the client.
“When I first started, I wasn’t established, so I purchased a portable studio kit and filled totes with props, flooring and backdrops, and drove it all around in the back of my van,” said Rasmussen. “At first my goal was to get a studio, but then I realized people loved the convenience of me coming to them. They like not having to drag their kids into a studio or take a brand new baby out of the house.”
And many of Rasmussen’s photographs are taken in visually striking outdoor locations, which has become very popular with clients.
“This fall has been amazing for photo settings; when you have that for a backdrop, why on earth would you consider sitting in a studio?” But Rasmussen is also able to set up photo shoots inside people’s homes, even in very small spaces like apartments and condominiums, that look as if they were taken in an upscale studio.
Second, Rasmussen did not take the route of so many young people who naively jump into a business start-up– investing a lot of capital and borrowing on future plans– simply because she had a passion. Rather, she took it slowly, foregoing the expense of a studio space, purchasing equipment gradually and building her clientele list before even buying business cards.
She has taken a few photography classes, but she is largely self-taught. To learn how to take great children’s portraits, Rasmussen practiced using her own two sons as subjects. She got her first taste of wedding photography when she ended up taking her own wedding photos, after her hired photographer was in a car accident on the way to Rasmussen’s wedding. The photographer was treated and released, but not in time to catch the nuptials, so Rasmussen and her personal attendant recorded the event on Rasmussen’s own point-and-shoot.
In fact, when Rasmussen first began to make a name for herself, it was rather accidental as well.
In 2010, she started an online blog titled “Tips from the Heart,” featuring her favorite recipes, kid stories, craft ideas and artistic pointers. She was using a simple point-and-shoot camera to take photos of her favorite things and post them to the blog site.
“Eventually, it grew to where I was getting 106,000 page views,” Rasmussen said. “I thought, I can take better photos than that, but I need a good camera.” It prompted her to invest in a digital SLR camera and some nice lenses. She posted photographs of family and friends on Facebook, and that’s when the wider world began to see Rasmussen’s talent.
But the social media tool Rasmussen found most valuable in establishing her reputation– especially at first– was good old fashioned word-of-mouth.
“Friends and family started referring me to others, and it just perpetuated to where I am now,” she said.
With a degree in interior design, Rasmussen has a trained eye for composition, color, form and style. Therefore, she also offers consultation on how to attractively display portraits in clients’ homes, helping them to pick out frames and making wall arrangements if they wish.
“In the past I just offered a CD of their sessions, but if you just hand people a CD, those portraits are likely going to sit in their computers forever. I don’t want that. If they are going to invest their time and energy into a session, they want a beautiful picture they can hang on their walls,” she said. She now has a software program that allows her to take a photograph of a wall in a client’s home, then plug in a variety of frames and arrangements on her computer so the client can actually view photo display options, and make choices or changes before ordering. “I want to offer a unique boutique experience without making people actually come to a studio,” she said.
Rasmussen feels the secrets to taking good photographs should be shared, not kept secret. Therefore, Ruby Ellen Photography offers workshops to teach people how take better photos with their own cameras.
“Most families have cameras of their own that they use on an auto setting,” she said. “So if people want to learn how to do their own portraits to hang on their walls, or take better sports photos, this gives them an option. I would rather encourage people’s creativity. I never want to come across as untouchable.”
Ruby Ellen photography offers senior portraits, child and family sessions, business photography, engagement and wedding photos, and milestone sessions– a set of photographs taken during pregnancy, just after a baby’s birth, and again in three months. Rasmussen has also accepted less traditional shoots, like documenting the experience of a family learning the gender of a baby still in utero, and even funeral photography.
Photographing a funeral was unusual at first, she said.
“It’s more common in the Chinese culture. In this case, a mother came here from Kenya to visit her daughter, and passed away while she was visiting,” she explained. “Her family couldn’t come to the United States to go to the funeral, so her daughter wanted everything captured just as if they were there. It was actually really moving.”
Rasmussen said she has a knack for capturing subjects’ emotions, and finds many of the candid shots she manages to snap in between poses more compelling than stiff, posed shots.
“It’s always rewarding when you can capture raw emotions versus a posed photo,” said Rasmussen. “Some of them are my favorite, because you can capture them just being themselves. My sessions tend to be more relaxed.”
In order to do that, though, subjects must feel comfortable with whoever is behind the camera. That’s why Rasmussen finds it important to create meaningful connections with her clients before creating their prints.
“I like to establish friendships with all clients,” Rasmussen said. “I want to give them a personal experience, in their homes or at their weddings or whatever event is important to them. Because it’s not just about handing them a disc of pictures.”
Find Rasmussen’s work and words at Ruby Ellenphotography.com, call her at 319-621-3365, or email her at info@Ruby Ellenphotography.com.